316 B. POLEVOI The crews were roused before dawn. Army Headquar- ters had received information that on the day before a large German aircraft unit had arrived in the area where the Soviet tanks had broken through. Ground observa- tions and intelligence reports justified the assumption that the German Command appreciated the danger created by the break-through of the Soviet tanks at the very base of the Kursk Salient and had called up the Richthofen Air Division, which was manned by the finest aces in Germany. This division had been last routed near Stalingrad, but had been re-formed somewhere deep in the German rear. The wing was warned that the enemy was strong in numbers, equipped with the latest type of machines—Fokke-Wolf-190's—and was highly experi- enced in battle. It was ordered to be on the alert and to provide reliable air cover for the second echelon of the mobile forces that had begun that night to follow the tanks through the breach. Richthofen! That name was well known to experienced airmen as that of the division that enjoyed the special patronage of Hermann Goering. The Germans sent it whenever their forces were being hard pressed. The flyers of this division, some of whom had conducted their piratical operations over Republican Spain, were fierce and skilful fighters, and were reputed to be a dangerous foe. "The men are saying that some sort of 'Richtovens' have been sent against us. Gee! I hope we meet 'em soon! We'll show 'em 'RichtovensT' declaimed Petrov in the messroom, hurriedly swallowing his food and glancing at the open window where Raya, the waitress, was picking flowers from a large bunch and placing them in shell bodies that had been polished with chalk until they shone. It goes without saying that this defiance was hurled at the "Richtovens" not for the benefit of Alexei who was finishing his coffee, but of the girl who was busy with the flowers and was now and again casting sidelong glances at handsome, ruddy Petrov. Meresyev watched them with an indulgent smile, but he disliked jokes and frivolous talk where serious business was concerned.